- The first-ever Walmart store opened its doors for the first time in the summer of 1962.
- But Walmart founder Sam Walton was no retail newbie when he launched his now-ubiquitous chain.
- Business Insider spoke to Alan Dranow, the senior director of the Walmart Heritage Group, about the retail giant’s early days.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Before it took over the world of retail, Walmart was just a discount store in Rogers, Arkansas.
Business Insider spoke to Alan Dranow, the senior director of the Walmart Heritage Group, about the chain’s beginnings. The Walmart Heritage Group runs the company’s official museum.
According to Dranow, Walmart wasn’t “an overnight success,” and its appeal wasn’t immediately apparent to shoppers and retail rivals.
Take a look back in time at Walmart’s early history:
The first-ever Walmart store opened up on July 2, 1962 in Rogers, Arkansas.
But it was far from Sam Walton’s first retail rodeo. Dranow noted that Walton had operated a number of Ben Franklin stores in the region since 1945.
When Walton lost the lease on Ben Franklin, he decided to open Walton’s Five and Dime in 1950. The location now houses the Walmart Museum.
A little over a decade later, Walton decided to open the first Walmart, a chain with a central focus on discount.
“Lowering the cost of living was always top of mind for Sam,” Dranow said.
“It was a very different way of serving customers and shopping,” Dranow said, adding that customers didn’t know what to make of the new store at first …
… but, unsurprisingly, they warmed up to the low prices. “From day one, the customer was always number one,” Dranow said.
Walton himself took a hands-on approach within this early crop of stores. “He was there making sure the customers were greeted right and the merchandise was out on display,” Dranow said.
“He was very hands-on in that respect because he wanted to make sure that everyone else in the store followed his example,” Dranow said. “He didn’t just sit back, fold his arms, and say, ‘You do this, you do that.'”
“He set an example for Walmart associates, and the customers saw that too,” Dranow said.
Dranow said that Walton strived to encourage early Walmart leadership to live “frugal” lives, and he even continued to drive around in his 1979 Ford F-150 custom truck with his hunting dog Old Roy even as Walmart began to expand.
But not everyone was impressed with Walton’s new crop of stores. Dranow related the story of Arkansas retail executive David Glass. Glass attended one of the chain’s first store opening events, which featured a heap of watermelons and donkey rides for the kids.
“It was 110 degrees and the watermelons started to pop,” Dranow said. “All this watermelon juice was running through the parking lot and was mixed with, well — as David said, donkeys do what donkeys do. People were tracking it into the store and it was a real mess.”
Glass has said that it was one of the worst store openings he’d ever seen. A few decades later, he’d succeed Walton as the CEO of Walmart.
Source: The Walmart Digital Museum
Eventually, Walmart outgrew its first store. It moved twice, eventually settling on a supercenter-sized building nearby.
The last location was just down the road, so close that the company didn’t even hire movers. “Just the image of associates pushing shopping carts across the street to get the merchandise over there is pretty comical,” Dranow said.
As for the world’s first Walmart, the original building now houses a hardware shop.
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